Author: Zachariah Kiburi Ndura
Urban farming is the growing and producing of food in a heavily populated area such as a town, municipality or city. Urban farming is also referred to as urban agriculture and is different from urban gardening. Urban farming assumes a level of commerce because products are grown to be sold. However, urban gardening’s end goal is to grow products for personal consumption.
Urban farming has become increasingly popular. Many people now understand the food system. They seek to have an input into how food is grown, treated, harvested and transported to the consumers. As a result, urban farming has increased access to locally grown food.
Urban farms are used for different purposes. Some are used for education and training purposes. Others are built to improve food access in a specific area. Mostly, urban farms are established for profit purposes. Urban farming is financially viable because of its cost-saving on transportation and is more environmentally responsible.
Urban Farming Techniques
1. Vertical Farming
Vertical farming is the growing of crops in layers that are arranged vertically. This technique is achieved by growing on specially modified pallets or shelves against fences or walls.
You can combine this urban farming technique with growing plants that need a climate-controlled environment such as mushrooms.
Vertical farming makes a small space more efficient since it will produce more food with each layer and shelve. It is also very common since a lot of plants only need a small vertical space to grow. Stacking four or five layers of plants on each other means, you will be producing four or five times the amount of product you would produce in conventional farming on the same space.
Hydroponics is an urban farming technique in which plants are grown without soil. Instead, plants are immersed in water and nutrients added to the water.
Materials such as perlite and gravel are used to offer more physical support to the plants. Hydroponic systems use organic matter like manure or chemical fertilizers.
This technique saves on water usage since water is reused and recycled. Hydroponic will, therefore allow you to use less water as compared to conventional farming.
Hydroponics is suitable for growing plants in areas where conditions are too harsh to grow the plants on the soil.
Aquaponics combines farming fish or other sea life with hydroponics. It creates a symbiotic relationship between the plants and fish.
Fish produce ammonia which is converted into nutrients for the plants by helpful bacteria in the water. The nutrients act as natural fertilizers and are absorbed by the plants. Water is recirculated through the system, and the cycle continues.
The fish reared through the aquaponic environment is tasty and can be sold when they mature. Selling the fish creates another source of income apart from the plants being grown.
Aquaponic is best for growing leafy green vegetables. However, other plants such as tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers can also be grown.
4. Shipping Container Farms
Shipping container farms are a form of urban farming that works best in areas where the weather is not conducive for growing crops. It is also best for a farmer who prefers a more controlled and pest-free environment.
The biggest advantage of shipping container farming is that it does not take much space. You can easily fit the container in a small space. Another advantage is that you can easily control the environment inside a shipping container and achieve the plants’ optimal temperature and humidity.
Space utilization inside the container is also very important. A common practice is to install shelves inside the container to maximize the use of the vertical space.
Mushrooms and leafy greens are among the best crops to grow in a shipping container because they don’t take much space. These type of plants will also attract a good price in the market.
With the right systems in place, shipping containers are not small but rather practical enough to generate full-time income for an urban farmer.
5. Rooftop Farming
Rooftops of apartment buildings around the city are a big potential for urban farming. Rooftops provide the much-needed space that is not easily available on the ground.
Rooftops can accommodate greenhouses and raised beds to grow plants on. Small animals like rabbits and chicken can also be reared on rooftops. However, you must always seek the consent of the building owner and check what your local laws say about rearing animals and growing crops in the city.
Rooftop urban farmers should also take care to ensure that the building can adequately support the activity. Soil can be very heavy, especially when wet. It is, therefore, advisable to go for plants that do not require a lot of soil. Understanding the building’s physical structure is important so that you can know what areas can support more weight.
Access to the rooftop and other logistics must also be considered before starting that rooftop farm. Setting up a rooftop farm can be challenging because all the tools and equipment, including the soil, will have to be carried to the roof. You might have access to an elevator, or you might have to use the stairs.
6. Backyard Gardens
Most backyards sit unused but still require to be regularly maintained. These backyards offer the perfect space for urban farming, where maintaining chores can be fruitful. The biggest advantage of a backyard is that you do not need to own the land.
A good number of homeowners will happily let you grow food in their backyard in exchange for a small fee. You may also be lucky to rent a house with a backyard, in which case it will be free to set up a small urban farm.
To make your backyard farm profitable, considering that space will be limited, grow crops that will sell for a high price. If the city laws allow, you can rear small livestock like rabbits and chicken.
Best Crops for Urban Farming
The biggest challenge to urban farming in space. Most heavily populated towns, cities, and municipalities do not have adequate spaces for farming. If there is space available, then the most preferred use would be for development purposes.
It is, therefore, critical to ensure that the small space available for urban farming is profitable. To achieve this, grow crops that will fetch a high price. Crops that do not require a lot of vertical space and will support shelve farming are among the best.
Plants such as mushrooms and microgreens are among the best crops for urban farming. These crops will require a small space and will fetch a good price. You will also get a quick turnaround because you will harvest them in just a few days to weeks.
However, mushrooms and microgreens are not the only crops you can grow on your urban farm. Most vegetables such as carrots, peas, peppers, cucumbers and salad greens can also be grown. These vegetables may not give you a fast turnaround but will need less care and fetch high prices. Small fruits such as strawberries are also a perfect plant for urban farming. They require a small space and will fetch high prices.
Urban farming is becoming increasingly popular in today’s world. The demand for fresh foods in heavily populated cities and towns has created an opportunity for urban farming. The high demand has led to increased prices for the foodstuff.
Therefore, city dwellers have been forced to come up with methods by which they can produce fresh produce to meet the demand and make profits from the same. Urban farming has created the opportunity to earn a fulltime income from farming in cities.
If you have a passion for farming but still enjoy city life, this is your chance to get into urban farming. Choose one of the techniques and follow your passion.